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6.2.21 Adoption Service - Internet Safety Protocol


This chapter was updated in August 2014, Section 3, Social Networking Sites was amended to reflect that in the majority of cases now the sending of photos to birth family is not encouraged. Where photos do form part of indirect contact, risk assessments are completed


  1. Introduction
  2. Safeguarding Children from Cyber Abuse is Everybody’s Business
  3. Social Networking Sites

1. Introduction

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council Adoption Service supports the use of the internet and what it can do in a positive way for children and young people. Children and young people can use the internet to claim or assert their rights in ways which have not been possible previously. The internet can also be an important source of support and help to some young people and children, perhaps often in situations where no other sources are readily available to them. Information technology and the internet can be a wonderful and enriching aid to education, tremendous source of fun and games as well as being a great way of staying in touch with friends and family.

This 'cyber world' offers knowledge, personal growth, extensive friendships and fun. But there are also new, exclusive dangers and challenges, particularly for children and young people. There are many concerns, such as:

  • Bullying;
  • Addiction;
  • Health risks;
  • Gambling and debt;
  • Child sexual abuse;
  • Desensitising children to violence and intimacy;
  • And in the case of children placed for adoption the risk of birth relatives ‘finding’ children placed for adoption.

Everyone who is responsible for children’s welfare needs to understand the strengths and the dangers of cyber world.

Over 40 million people in the UK now regularly use the internet. Protecting children and young people from tracking, identification, bullying and abuse through computers and mobile phones cannot be prevented by censorship, filters or monitoring alone. Children and young people have to understand the dangers and know how to keep themselves safe.

2. Safeguarding Children from Cyber Abuse is Everybody’s Business

  • 44 million people in the UK have access to the internet including 99% of 8 -17 year olds;
  • Only half of children encountering harmful or inappropriate content say they did something about it;
  • 18% of children have come across harmful or inappropriate content online;
  • 67% of parents have rules for their children’s internet usage;
  • 33% of children say their parents don’t really know what they do on the internet;
  • 76% of young people say the internet means their friends are there whenever they need them.

The internet is already a vital part of modern British life, and our dependence on it will only increase as today’s children and young people become adults.

Parents, carers and the other adults who work with children are learning how to help them stay safe online. But there is still some way to go: 82% of children say their school has taught them how to use the internet safely, but 33% say their parents don’t really know what they do on the internet. Even though 79% of parents say that they talk to their children about online safety, only 52% of children agree. Children and young people are leading the way in using new technology but some don’t know enough about how to keep themselves safe, and some don’t realise how important their role is in keeping themselves and others safe. 31% of 12 -15 year olds don’t use privacy settings on their social networking profiles and only half of children encountering harmful or inappropriate content say that they did something about it.

In order to respond to the identified risks of the internet to children’s welfare and safety whilst also preparing and informing prospective adoptive parents, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council adoption service have put together information that is shared during preparation groups and in the Post Approval Handbook.

Appendix 1 - to follow shows the information incorporated into the Post Approval Handbook to inform prospective adoptive parents of the benefits and risks of the internet. Appendix 2 - to follow is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation shared with prospective adoptive parents during preparation groups. The Jargon Buster (Appendix 3 - to follow) is also shared with prospective adoptive parent(s) during prep groups.

However the benefits and risks associated with the internet is similar for all children and their parents. The greatest threat to adoptive families and children placed for adoption is the rise of ‘Social Networking’ sites such as Facebook, My Space and Bebo. Young people often feel like they are invincible when it comes to the internet and using social networking sites. The feeling of ‘it’ll never happen to me’ is all too common for those young ‘natives’ who have grown up with the internet. They may even feel that they’ve heard enough about online safety and that the stories in the press don’t reflect their experiences.

3. Social Networking Sites

‘Social Networking’ is a phenomenon that emerged from nowhere and came to dominate the online child safety agenda in the space of five years. Parents whose children have been removed from their care and adopted because of abuse or Neglect are contacting them through social networking sites and causing huge distress and confusion to both the children and adults involved. Some birth parents are using the social networking sites to contact their children to tell them they were ‘stolen’ from them or to try and arrange a secret meeting with them. Young people are using the internet to trace and contact their birth parents and other birth relatives, while birth relatives are using it to trace their children. While information about birth relatives is important for adopted children, unplanned and unsupported contact through sites like Facebook, by-pass the safeguards that are usually in place. This could cause disruption and upset to a family, and in some extreme cases present a real danger to the child.

While there can sometimes be positive outcomes from contact via social media there are also a number of risks, including:

  • A child may not fully understand why they came into care, and therefore not understand the danger they are putting themselves in;
  • A birth parent may be unprepared for, and unable to deal with an approach from the young person;
  • Some birth mothers belong to a family or community where sex outside marriage is taboo and so may have kept the pregnancy, birth and subsequent adoption a secret.

Most birth parents do not want to disrupt their child’s adoptive placement but many lack insight into the impact that unplanned contact can have on all involved. Therefore, in the majority of cases now the sending of photos to birth family is not encouraged. Where photos do form part of indirect contact, risk assessments are completed. It is important that decisions about sending photographs or not is proportionate to the risk and based on proper risk assessments. To ensure that birth relatives are aware of the agency’s expectations they are asked to sign their agreement that any information and photographs shared with them will not be used inappropriately to identify and disrupt an adoptive placement. Appendix 4 and 5 - to follow highlights information shared with prospective adoptive parents on the risks and the actions they can take to minimise the risks posed by social networking sites on the security of an adoptive placement.